HC Deb 10 July 2001 vol 371 cc656-8
9. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

If he will make a statement on the ministerial responsibilities within his Department for Africa. [1547]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

Within the Secretary of State's overall responsibilities, Baroness Amos is the Minister for Africa. She is responsible for sub-Saharan African issues. I am the Minister responsible for north African issues and will answer questions on sub-Saharan Africa in the House.

Mr. Brady

I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment. Does he agree that at a time of deepening crisis in Zimbabwe, and as Britain's diplomatic efforts in Africa have completely collapsed this week at the meeting of the Organisation of African Unity, it is extremely regrettable that the British Government's response has been to downgrade the ministerial responsibility for Africa from a Minister of State to two Under-Secretaries?

Mr. Bradshaw

I do not accept for a moment that our diplomacy has failed, and the responsibilities are nothing new. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) split the responsibility between sub-Saharan Africa and north Africa when he was a Minister. Indeed, under the previous Conservative Government, a Minister in the House of Lords, not in this House, had to answer to hon. Members. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State carries the primary responsibility for Africa, and the Prime Minister is extremely engaged in the subject.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new post. What steps are being taken to resolve the long-running land distribution conflict in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Bradshaw

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is an urgent need for land reform, but the British Government believe that it must be within the ambit of the rule of law and that it must be sustainable and transparent. We have contributed £44 million to land reform in Zimbabwe since independence, and we have consistently said that we would support land reform in line with the principles agreed by the Government of Zimbabwe and international donors at the 1998 land conference. Sadly, Zimbabwe is not adhering to those principles.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities and congratulate him on his appointment. I also welcome the Government's statements that Africa will be a priority in their foreign policy, although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) that the institutional arrangements set up do not suggest that; they send the reverse signal. There is so much in Africa, particularly in southern Africa, that is encouraging, given the number of countries that have become pluralist, multi-party democracies, that are embracing the open economy and that are flourishing. We understand the desire of the old organisation of African Unity to rebrand and relaunch itself as a new African Union as a signal of a new era, but does the Minister agree that the decision of the Foreign Ministers of that union to give full support to President Mugabe's tyrannical and ruinous regime is as bad a start for the new organisation as it could possibly have? A generation ago, Africa was wealthier per capita than Asia; since then, the position has been reversed. How will the Minister convey the message that success in today's world lies in embracing the rule of law, democracy and the open economy? Mugabe's regime and the OAU's support for him contaminates the whole continent.

Mr. Bradshaw

The right hon. Gentleman should view the statement by the African Union, as it now calls itself, in the context of its desire to maintain unity, but he and all hon. Members know that many countries in Africa, and many people in Zimbabwe, share our deep concerns about the Zimbabwean human rights record, want that country to move swiftly towards free and fair elections and feel very sad about the state of the Zimbabwean economy.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham)

I welcome the Minister to his new post. Can he assure me and my constituents, many of whom are African, that Africa remains a top priority and that conflict resolution and the formation of civil society across Africa is at the top of his agenda?

Mr. Bradshaw

Yes, Africa remains a top priority. The Opposition were rather unfair about my noble Friend Baroness Amos, who will be an excellent Minister and has already shown great energy. She has met a succession of African leaders and will visit Nigeria shortly. As I said earlier, the Prime Minister has held a summit with President Mbeke of South Africa. We are very supportive of the formation of the new African Union, and the Prime Minister will take the recommendations that come from the meeting of the African Union this week to the forthcoming G8 summit in Genoa.

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